By Denver Business Journal

Kinder Morgan Inc. has agreed to buy El Paso Corp., creating the world's largest oil and gas pipeline company.

Both Houston-based companies have pipelines in the Rocky Mountain region. Together, they have staked in some 80,000 miles of pipeline.

The buyout by Kinder Morgan (NYSE: KMI) of El Paso (NYSE: EP) is valued at about $21 billion in cash plus $17 billion in debt. The deal is expected to close by mid-2012.

The deal also includes a pair of affiliates, Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP (NYSE: KMP) and El Paso Pipeline Partners LP (NYSE: EPB), MarketWatch reports.

El Paso Pipeline Partners controls Colorado Springs-based Colorado Interstate Gas (Cigco), with about 4,300 miles of natural gas pipeline in Colorado, Wyoming and neighboring states.

El Paso Corp. also operates the 680-mile Ruby Pipeline, which was placed into service in July. It's a $3 billion system to carry natural gas from Wyoming to Oregon whose construction was supported by then-Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter.

Meanwhile, Kinder Morgan Energy Partners owns 50 percent of the 1,679-mile Rockies Express pipeline from western Colorado to eastern Ohio, which was completed in 2009.

It also operates the Pony Express pipeline, originally built to carry crude oil and converted to carry natural gas in 1997. The line runs about 500 miles from southeastern Wyoming through northeastern Colorado into Kansas.

Kinder has proposed converting the Pony Express pipeline to again carry oil from the promising Niobrara play spanning the Colorado-Wyoming border, the Denver Business Journal's Cathy Proctor reports in this week's print edition. ( DBJ subscribers can read that report here.)

Under terms of the Kinder-El Paso deal, El Paso will become a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, which intends to sell off exploration and production assets.

Kinder Morgan eventually will consist almost entirely of what are now assets of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners and El Paso Pipeline Partners, including ownership of their shares, MarketWatch reports.

Rich Kinder, chairman and CEO of Kinder Morgan, told the Houston Chronicle that the melding of the two companies is a "once-in-a-lifetime transaction."

Industry analysts say the deal represents a gamble by Kinder Morgan that natural gas prices, which have been depressed based on a vast domestic supply, will eventually increase.

El Paso announced plans in May to close a Denver office it had opened in 2006.

The Denver office oversaw El Paso's oil and gas exploration and production operations in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah. The closure of the Denver office at 1099 18th St., which had about 60 employees, was announced as part of an effort to streamline decision-making for El Paso's western oil and gas division by consolidating the Denver office's functions into its Houston headquarters.

El Paso's Colorado Springs office, which remains open, is headquarters for its western pipeline division, with more than 400 employees.

Compiled by the DBJ's Mark Harden | Cathy Proctor and the Houston Business Journal contributed |

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